He may, as Ben Brogan argues, have been rather over-selling it, but news that Vince Cable has discussed Lib Dem policies with Treasury civil servants to help them prepare in case he becomes Chancellor in a post-election coalition government has added fuel to the current bonfire of speculation about the likelihood of a hung Parliament. The latest polls suggest that Labour and the Conservatives are currently both short of winning a Commons majority.
Lord Owen knows a thing or two about hung Parliaments and the politics of cobbling together agreements with third, fourth and even fifth parties. Owen was a member of the Cabinet during Jim Callaghan’s 1976-9 Labour government, when Callaghan fought to balance the budget during a severe recession while depending on deals with the Liberals and various Nationalist parties to retain a Commons majority.
In this interview, given at Nottingham’s Centre for British Politics, Lord Owen (now a cross bencher) reveals that this experience has led him to support the creation of Charter2010. This seeks to promote a ‘stable and more representative government capable of dealing with Britain’s economic plight’ should the country fail to give either of the main parties a Commons majority, one which they will need if they are to deal with the deep dark hole into which the recession has thrown government finances.
History never repeats itself, but sometimes it has a damn good try, and historians have already examined this period in detail. If the 1970s have any lessons for our own times, Owen believes one of them is that should there be a hung Parliament then politicians have to work together over a sustained period to reduce the deficit. How likely is this? History cannot predict the future but it suggests we might be in for a bumpy ride.
Professor Steven Fielding